It’s not really about closing the gender gap- it’s about closing the transportation inequity gap. It’s a basic human need to feel safe – regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or economic standing. It all starts with how our streets are designed. Do we design for motor vehicles or do we design for people?
The little girl and her mother pictured above are using the Broadway protected bike lane to get from A to B. It’s a great example of sustainable safety. The child is obviously under thirteen, so it’s still legal for her to ride on the sidewalk. But it’s better for everyone that we dedicate space for her to travel by bicycle rather than having her on the crowded sidewalks of NYC.
I used to hate pedaling down Broadway through this stretch of town. Cars were often speeding and drove aggressively. It felt unsafe to me. Today, it’s an enjoyable experience where I can actually relax because I don’t worry about being hit by a car. The Broadway bike lane isn’t perfect yet and it’s underutilized because it’s incomplete.
It starts at Columbus Circle and 59th Street- where one’s approach on bicycle is through a busy traffic circle.
We lose the lane from 48th to 42nd and then it abruptly ends just above 14th street at Union Square. We could have a complete network of bike lanes in this city, but we haven’t gotten there yet because too many people have the notion that if a street isn’t safe enough to bike on, you should just route the people on bicycles elsewhere (aka Central Park), that people on bikes don’t deserve infrastructure until they learn to ‘behave’, or that ‘free’ car parking is the more important than people’s safety.
In the conversation about sustainable safety it’s important to emphasize that everyone benefits- not just people on bikes. We all want the same thing no matter what transport mode we use: Safer Streets. We are all pedestrians first and it’s pedestrians that benefit the most from Complete Streets.
But back to the ‘gender’ gap. It’s time to get rid of the blood, sweat and tears. Seriously.
Blood. Riding a bicycle for transportation is inherently safe. But we need to make it safer. We need to continue building out the infrastructure which includes not just protected bike ways but also slow zones (20mph) where driver’s speeds are reduced to the point where the amount of damage they can inflict on other cars, pedestrians or people on bikes is minimal to non-existent.
It’s also time to stop with the fear mongering. Ditch the helmet promotion campaigns. They send a message that riding a bicycle is dangerous when it’s really not. If you feel safer riding a bike wearing a helmet- please do so. If that’s what gets you on a bike and keeps you on a bike- I would rather you wear a helmet than not get on a bike at all.
Helmets don’t stop cars from hitting you (which is the greatest danger we face as do people in cars and on foot) and they offer only minor (and debatable) protection if one does. Infrastructure and more people on bikes is the proven method to increase the safety of people on bikes. Don’t believe me? May I suggest you take a trip to the Netherlands or Denmark to see how it works (and where the ‘gender’ gap is non-existent).
Sweating. We all sweat. It’s a natural part of our body’s homeostasis mechanisms. How much one actually ‘sweats’ or perspires depends on a lot of factors that really have nothing to do with utility cycling. The average commuter speed for people on bikes is about 10-12 mph. When you’re pedaling at a leisurely pace you’re really not going to sweat any more than you would if you were walking. When it’s warm out, the breeze will cool you down and when it’s cold, the internal body heat you generate will keep you warm- and you won’t break into a pool of sweat in either case. You can travel a longer distance in a shorter amount of time and there’s no need for any special clothes or gear. Just wear whatever you have in your closet.
Tears. You’re more likely to smile when you’re on a bicycle. People who commute by bicycle tend to be happier and take fewer sick days than those who choose other transportation modes. Getting from A to B by bicycle is freedom and can bring you joy. Subway fares rising again? No worries. Bus or train running late? No worries. Stuck in traffic. Not anymore. New to commuting by bicycle? Scared to go it alone? Get friends to join you. There’s safety in numbers and you’ll enjoy the social aspect of utility cycling.
There are other aspects that contribute to getting more people on bikes, but I’m going to stop here for today. There’s this little get together happening in Washington, D.C. that I wish I were attending. And today was dedicated to women’s voices in biking (if you’re on twitter, you can follow the hashtag #nbs2013 for updates). More of us need to be vocal and make our voices and needs heard. If one person who didn’t already know about the issues I’ve touched on reads this and gets on the bandwagon- then my blathering was worth it.
In the meantime, the simplest and easiest way to encourage more people to ride bicycles is to ride one yourself. Get out there and be a roll model. Our time is here. And it’s timeless.